DISCLAIMER: The Walking Dead characters are the property of American Movie Classics (AMC), Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Entertainment, Darkwoods Productions, and AMC Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2014 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Did You Do That?
Carol stinks. Not the usual stink—that smell she's grown used to—but walker stink. It's raining walkers outside and she knows taking the time to douse her head in the bathroom sink and wipe off the walker-goo she smeared all over her face may be foolhardy, but she does it anyway. She knows smelling clean—well, cleaner—is not going to help her blend in with the walkers, but maybe it's better to look human at this point. There's so much confusion out there, the Terminus people shooting anything that looks like a walker, it's probably a crapshoot whether she's more likely to get bitten to death or shot by these...butchers.
As she steps back from the sink, she bumps into Daryl's crossbow. They had him. They had him and she can't find him.
No, she doesn't want to think about what they are, or what the woman in the candle room said. She doesn't care what made them butchers. She only cares that they had her friends.
They had Daryl. And she can't find him.
The buildings are empty, no one huddling inside—she'll give the Terminus folks that: they fight like fiends. But they aren't used to the gates being down, to having to fend off more than the occasional walker at the fence. She can tell by the way they seem to lose focus when too many walkers get close. The way their bullets stop hitting heads and start hitting parts that won't put a walker down.
She makes her way from window to window, trying to find her people, her friends...and him.
She has almost given up hope when she sees people going over the fence, thinks they're her people. Walkers cluster after them, and she knows she'll have to find another way out.
The buildings are connected so she moves into the next one, careful to not let her guard down, not to think of who and what she's trying to get to. Living in the present is what's kept her alive, and she can't think that maybe he's with the group, maybe she'll finally see him again.
Maybe she'll be able to hand him his crossbow and see his little smile, the one he used to make, the one that says he's a little bit helpless where she's concerned.
"No, damn it all. Stay in the goddamned moment." She used to talk this way to herself back when she was weak and small and it was the only way to survive Ed. Now she's strong and she needs to stay that way. Daryl won't matter if she's dead.
She finds a door not swarming with walkers and moves out, staying near the building until she sees a spot where she can get over. She throws the poncho encrusted with walker-goo over the barbed wire and climbs, tossing the crossbow and her rifle down and then following, landing easily.
Back when she was a victim, she used to be a klutz. It was as if all her stories of walking into cabinet doors had come true somehow—some kind of coping mechanism her subconscious made up to let her live with herself for staying with Ed, for keeping her daughter with him.
Now, now she feels like her body is hers finally. Like she could run all the way to Atlanta and not be winded.
If Ed saw her now, he'd back away slowly. Bullies like him never take on someone who can fight back. She wishes she could have been this version of herself sooner, for Sophia's sake—and her own.
She hears the group before she sees them. Rick, talking too loudly about killing everyone. His voice makes her smile, even if she's not sure that she's welcome, that he'll let her stay.
It will break her heart to leave now, but she'll do it if she has to.
She moves out of the shadows and sees Rick, but it's Daryl who hears her, Daryl who turns around.
Daryl who runs to her, his arms strong—stronger than she is, strong enough that she can let down, just a little—and he lifts her up and she laughs.
"I have your bow," she murmurs as he buries his head in her neck. "And I stink of walkers."
"I don't care," he says back, his words muffled by her shirt as he tightens his grip on her, like she's mist that might slip away when he opens his eyes.
But she doesn't slip away, and when he pulls back, he seems to let go of something that he's carried deep inside him. He leans down, his head on her chest, surrendering and thankful—she knows what he's feeling because she's feeling it too.
Then Rick is walking toward her and she tenses, knowing what's coming. I can't have you here. Isn't that what he said? And he doesn't know what else she's done. He doesn't know about Lizzie.
But Rick is smiling and he asks with something that sounds like wonder, "Did you do that?"
It's forgiveness in a question. It's debts paid. It's what he needs from her, and she nods because yes, she did do that. She goddamned did that and she'd do it again and again, because that's what she does. She does what has to be done.
And he pulls her in, and his hand is on her hair, and she can relax but she'll save that, for later, with Daryl. For now, she has a present for Rick.
It feels good to give him this, to lead him to his daughter. To watch joy on his face instead of disgust and fear. She gives Sasha back her brother and is happy for Tyreese. And she doesn't say anything as Tyreese tells her what he did, what he had to do, but she looks at him with all the patience left inside her because she knows the journey he's making, knows that it's hard to go from soft to hard sometimes, but he'll get there.
If she could, he will.
"Come here." A soft voice, urgent, then Daryl's hand on her shoulder as he pulls her away to the edge of the group. "I didn't know what Rick was going to do. I wouldn't have let him..."
"I know, Pookie."
He laughs and nods, and she knows they're all right because this is how they are. They don't need to say much to understand what's between them.
Rick leads them out and it's mostly single file, but she walks with Daryl, or maybe he's walking with her. It doesn't matter to her, and she knows it doesn't matter to him who leads and who follows. They walk and she imagines a bathtub or a shower or even just a deep river, and then she's jarred out of her daydreams by the feel of him grabbing her hand.
He looks over at her, his grip a little too strong, but she knows it's not to hurt her the way it would be if Ed were doing it. He's holding on that tightly because deep down Daryl is as soft as she is, and he's hurting and guilty, and she pulls him closer and murmurs, "Cut it out. It wasn't your fault."
"Never again. We stay together."
When she was girl, she dreamed of a man who would never let her go. When she was with Ed, she saw the worst of that dream come true. Now, now she just pulls Daryl's face down to her and kisses him, the kiss hard and not anything like her old self would do.
And he kisses her back, desperately, but both of them keep walking somehow, not holding the group up, pulling away when the terrain gets iffy.
"We stay together," he says again, as if he can make it so by will alone.
"And if we don't, I'll find you," she says with a smile.
"You damn well will, won't you?"